Mich. ranks last in U.S. for higher education funding

Although increased state funding for higher education increased by 1 percent in Michigan this year, the state still ranks last in appropriations at that level through the last five years.

Figures from on the MSU budget show that from 2002 to 2007, money that Michigan received for higher education has decreased 13 percent while the rest of the country’s average over that time is an increase of 15.1 percent.

“Every other state recognizes that support of public higher education and research is really critical to their success,” MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said. “It’s really very concerning that at the same time that everybody sees that as a solution, the support for public higher education in Michigan continues to slide downward.”

Higher education funding in Michigan

Since 2002, state funding for public higher education in Michigan has decreased by 13 percent, which is the lowest in the country during that time. During that same five-year period, the national average for public university funding increased by 15.1 percent.

Source: MSU Office of Planning and Budgets

Much of the reason for the state’s tight budgets over the past five years is the struggling domestic automobile industry.

“Michigan’s economy has been severely challenged as a result of what’s happening in the auto industry and what’s happening in the national economy,” said Leslee Fritz, a spokeswoman for the Office of the State Budget. “We have had to make very difficult decisions about funding priorities and funding for a lot of important programs has either been cut or not been increased.”

While the auto industry can be blamed for many of the state’s financial woes, the national and international landscapes also have played a role.

“The war took center stage above looking at education across the country,” MSU Trustee Dorothy Gonzales said. “I think that we, as a country, have some of our priorities mixed up.”

Simon said the university is tightening its financial belt as much as possible to deal with the state’s lack of support. She said MSU is reducing its carbon footprint and re-examining its health care costs.

“We need to do everything we can to control costs and there’s always more to do because we’re a big place,” Simon said. “On the whole, the state has to do its part. We’re an investment for the future and everything has become more and more short term as the pressures have built.”

As the university continues to cut costs, Simon said changes have to occur elsewhere. She said the business community’s influence is essential in turning the state’s priorities around.

At last week’s Earn, Learn and Intern job fair, students came interested in Michigan jobs. Simon said this interest is critical for businesses to capitalize on.

“Many businesses were surprised that our students wanted to stay in Michigan,” Simon said. “We’ve always got students who are bright and want to be part of a winning team. If we support them, they will stay.”

Keeping Michigan graduates in Michigan is one solution to turning around the economy, but Simon said mindsets and ideals must change in Lansing before anything substantial can happen.

“You have to elect people who come to Lansing with a view that higher education is important,” she said. “You’re probably not going to convert them once they’re here. We’re looking to find political will, not political rhetoric.”

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